It’s not long now until the kids start a new academic year. And for me, September is also a new start, or restart to be precise. Not only do I start a new job as a TA but I have to mark September, for this year at least, as a fresh start to my writing. So far it has not been great and I’m ashamed to say my work in progress totals less than 5,000 words, albeit they have been rewritten several times in different voices, different POV etc.
But all is not lost, as I keep telling myself. And thanks to my namesake Natalie Perry, a fellow SCBWI member, I am reignited with a passion to get my WIP off the ground and running (a bit faster at least). Since Natalie posted a link last week to the podcasts from BBC Radio 4’s The Invisible College, I have been an avid listener. Just 10 minutes long, they provide excellent advice and tips on writing and are an ideal partner on dog walks I have found. In one walk I can get through maybe three podcasts and will have picked up numerous ideas and inspiration for my writing.
One in particular struck a chord. Number 9, Keep Human.
This is about the ‘time in between’ your writing. The time Noel Coward describes as a chance to ‘collect your thoughts’. A time for socialising, reading new genres, seeing a bit of culture, basically getting out of the four walls where your last project kept you hidden. And that is certainly what I have been doing these last few months.
In January, I finished my last manuscript: a YA novel set in post-apartheid South Africa, one which I pitched live at last year’s SCBWI conference in The Hook. And the early months of this year were spent frantically submitting, waiting, submitting some more, waiting, all the time trying to get a new story off the ground.
But this podcast refreshed my outlook on the last few what I thought wasted months. Ok not wasted as such, as mum to three busy girls & two schnauzers and a wife, life generally interrupts any established flow to a writing schedule. So, during this time, ideas for my story, or ‘seeds’ if you like have been germinating in my ‘mental compost’.
Fellow writers will recognise the frustrations in getting a new story up and running. After spending years with Zola and her family, the protagonist from The Colour of Forgiveness, it is difficult to get in the mind of another teenage girl, from a different time and place, with different wants and needs.
But Tammy hasn’t been far from my mind, she’s always there, lingering in the background, her character developing with each new playlist put together for future dog walks, when my mind wanders back to the 1980’s (the setting for my WIP). During these ‘dry’ months, the seed has grown into a sapling and is now developing into a young plant, with new scenes, actions and dialogue sprouting from the branches.
In the Keep Human podcast, Cathy Fitzgerald talks about this dry period as a time to forget about writing. It is a necessity for writers to have this time until they start to miss the blank page. And that is where I am at. I miss the feeling of knowing I have spent a suitable period in the chair at the keyboard, watching the words clock up in the left-hand corner. Just completing this blog, (the first in 3 months) is an accomplishment.
And I don’t think I will be the only one itching to get back into it. Many writers with children at home during the summer holidays will have struggled to put pen to paper/fingers on keyboard. So, come on, the countdown has started. Get the uniforms labelled and ironed, pencil cases sorted and bags packed, it’s time to get that story back up and running!